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Woman risks fine, jail over well-being of beavers ; Hopes case prompts DEC policy change

Gudrun Scott tried to safely relocate beavers from a dangerous situation along a state road.

For her trouble, she was ticketed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation -- and several of the beavers were later killed by vehicular traffic.

On Monday, Scott's case will be heard in Alfred Town Court, where she faces a maximum $250 fine and/or 15 days in jail.

Scott believes the environmental policies for beavers -- New York's "state animal" -- are antiquated and must be changed -- especially the agency's reluctance to relocate beavers instead of killing them.

"It's a very [environmentally] valuable animal, and the DEC has made no plans to do anything about them other than to kill them. And it's wrong, just plain wrong," Scott said.

"That's especially true in today's world, where we have to protect water, the water level and wetlands, and the beavers are considered by biologists to be a keystone animal for their promotion of wildlife."

It was last May when Scott, whose husband, Ross Scott, is also serving as her attorney, succeeded, with a "Have-a-Heart" trap, in capturing one of several beavers involved in building dams on both sides of State Route 21, in the town of Alfred. She feared the beavers would be run over, since the road has a narrow three-foot shoulder on each side and a speed limit of 55 mph.

A DEC regional officer found and released the beaver, and ticketed Scott for trapping out of season. The beaver and three young offspring were killed by vehicles later in the summer, Scott said.

"I am not guilty of trapping out of season. I was rescuing an animal, and that has no particular season," she said.

The animals' deaths were predictable, she added. "I was apprehensive checking the trap every day, because I was getting myself prepared to see roadkill," she said.

DEC spokeswoman Megan Gollwitzer said the agency could not comment on an active court case. But she referred to a DEC regulation, which states:

"DEC will not authorize relocation of problem beaver except under extraordinary circumstances, and only then after there has been careful consideration of all other options. The decision to relocate will be made by the regional wildlife manager."

Gollwitzer also noted regulations that prohibit people from trapping without a trapping permit, which Scott did not possess.

Scott claims she called the DEC first to ask whether she could relocate the beavers to her 250-acre property in Independence, where several beavers once peacefully coexisted. She said she was told the DEC would get back to her, but it never did. Ken Basile, the officer who ticketed her, had visited her house to determine its suitability for relocating beavers, Scott said.

The DEC also was aware of public safety concerns -- it provided a "nuisance permit" twice last summer allowing the state Department of Transportation to remove the beaver dams because of concerns about highway flooding, a DOT spokeswoman said.

Scott laments that the DEC also didn't call an area beaver rehabilitation facility that would have taken the beavers, she said.

Biologist Sharon Brown, who also directs Beavers, Wetlands and Wildlife, an educational non-profit in the Adirondack foothills, said the DEC has made some changes in its thinking towards beavers, but not enough.

"State wildlife agencies in general were created to deal with nuisance animals and to support hunting and trapping, and that has been a big part of the philosophy they operate under," Brown said.

"Even though we now know more about their ecological benefits since the days when beavers were almost wiped out [by trapping], the policies are changing too slowly."

Scott said she declined to plead guilty and pay a nominal $25 fine so she could take aim at the rare relocation policy itself.

"DEC is supposed to be conserving and protecting animals," Ross Scott said. "This kind of turns the words 'conserving and protecting' upside down."

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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